Former Attorney General Eric Holder believes that the “possibility exists” that the government may work out a deal allowing Snowden to reenter the country, and praised the "useful" and "necessary debate" sparked by Snowden's revelations on NSA spying.
Holder, who just resumed his old job as a lawyer at Covington & Burling, told Yahoo News in an interview published Monday, “I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists.”
Snowden has been in self-imposed exile in Russia since 2013.
The former AG took a surprisingly generous tone towards the whistleblower, saying that “his actions spurred a necessary debate” and “we are in a different place as a result of the Snowden disclosures.”
Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, confirmed that these remarks were unprecedented. “The former attorney general’s recognition that Snowden’s actions led to meaningful changes is welcome,” Wizner told Yahoo. “This is significant … I don’t think we’ve seen this kind of respect from anybody at a Cabinet level before.”
In a follow-up interview with the Huffington Post, Holder clarified that he still believes Snowden's disclosures were "harmful" and should have first been brought privately to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but said that they nevertheless resulted in a "useful" debate.
"I think the manner in which he made the disclosures has proven to be extremely harmful to the United States, but as the same time as I acknowledged in the interviews I did, a debate has been spurred in our country that I think at the end of the day has been a useful one and resulted in appropriate changes to the way in which we gather information," he said.
As AG, Holder had previously expressed openness to some sort of deal. “We’ve always indicated… that the notion of clemency was not something we were willing to consider,” he said last year. “Were he to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.”
Other sources told Yahoo that a top U.S. intelligence official has privately considered a bargain wherein Snowden would plead guilty to one felony count and be sentenced to three to five years in exchange for full cooperation.
Jeb Bush tweeted this response to the article shortly after it was published:
Snowden broke the law, recklessly endangered nat'l security, & fled to China/Russia. He should be given no leniency https://t.co/9RHNGsHZnx— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) July 7, 2015
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first published Snowden’s revelations for the Guardian, fired back:
He's not asking for "leniency," & other than the "China/Russia" part, this comment applies more to your brother... https://t.co/pnq2o0a2kU— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) July 7, 2015
Greenwald later added, "If US wants him to come home, it'll be with a deal he's comfortable with."